If you've read any of my various X-&-O-themed posts in the last few years, you probably know that Dr.B over at our Clemson affiliate, Shakin' the Southland, is a huge resource. Every offseason he and his mates consistently churn out some fantastic pieces on football strategy, from coverage reads down to offensive blocking techniques.
He also happens to be an LSU fan and former student himself, so he has quite a bit of insight to offer, which he was good enough to do for us.
It feels like a bit of an odd year for Clemson. Flashy, explosive offense. Defense that gave up a ton of points. Impressive wins, but the losses to Florida State and South Carolina were obviously tough. Can you sum things up for us?
Given that most Clemson fans expected an 8-4 season this year, one could call it a pleasant surprise to be sitting here at 10-2. I, however, set the bar at 10 wins in the preseason and we hit that, but that is only one of the 3 goals we have every year which are: win 10, win the ACC, beat SC. I did not believe we could beat FSU in Tallahassee, since the home team has won that game for most of this decade, so that killed any hope of winning the ACC. FSU choked once at NC State but didn't do it twice.
I really didn't expect the defense to be THIS bad though, and if we'd had one, we might be unbeaten right now. FSU raped our pitiful defensive squad, probably producing the worst overall Clemson defensive performance I've seen, it was right up there with the Orange Bowl, but in that bowl game the team quit, against FSU they were just plain bad.
SC managed to control the clock with 3-4 yard gains and little dump passes underneath the coverage that keep chains moving. The offensive game plan bears a considerable amount of criticism for this loss too though.
Even in the games where you look at the score and say "well Clemson beat that ass and the scrub team gave up late points", you had periods where the game was in doubt because the defense really couldn't stop anyone until midseason. Frankly I think this is the worst Clemson defense I have ever seen. Statistically it may not be in the end because of the weak schedule, but it's bad. Thankfully it is getting better, but only in the front 7. They were giving up huge chunks and now the very young and inexperienced DL is improving enough to take over some games and of course the rushing defense gets better whenever that happens. There are some building blocks here for a sustained defensive improvement through the next couple seasons.
And other than the SC game, I can't question Chad Morris' offensive play calling or instruction very much. He's worth every penny he's paid. Offensively I think we'll be good through next year, and there will be good players there for the foreseeable future.
In the end though, the 10-2 record is very hollow. We beat the ones we were supposed to beat, which is improvement, but beat no one any good. Ball State is the best win on the record. We lost a home win streak by losing to SC. We didn't win the ACC, and losing a 4th straight to SC for the first time since the 1950s means this season is a failure in my book, regardless of the bowl outcome. Beating LSU would take a bad taste out of the mouths of the fans though.
Tahj Boyd and the offense have some pretty impressive numbers. What can we look forward to seeing, and how do you view the matchup versus LSU's defense?
Well I wouldn't expect Clemson to have much success running between the Tackles. Our interior line has had good games but they digressed over the season as a whole. LSU is stout enough inside that I doubt we'd have much success. I think Mingo can be exploited outside because he's a little too aggressive, and gets himself out of position. I would run outsize zone at him, not Montgomery.
It's not Andre Ellington's fault his numbers have dropped off. The staff refuses to give carries to their best RB, and once we're up big, because we have little depth, they pull him out of the game. He's legit and will be in the NFL, but Clemson doesn't run him enough. I would expect more side-to-side motion with jet sweeps one way and an inside/outside zone handoff to the backs. Sammy Watkins should get more carries on the sweep, which disappeared late this season as well.
Over the year, and we complain of this often at STS, Morris tends to get pass happy. The offense is predicated on running game success between the tackles, but if he's not getting yards in chunks he'll give up and just
throw the ball all over the place. There's a ton of play-action, a ton of deep drops/patterns, and he doesn't mind breaking out a trick play to sucker a linebacker or safety when he sees them cheating. As talented as LSU's DBs are, I think Clemson has the WRs to beat them. Reid I respect greatly at safety, so deep routes may be a problem, but I think we can exploit one CB.
Bottom line, even though I do not expect Clemson to beat LSU, I do expect us to score 2 or 3 TDs.
You watch a lot of LSU football as well, and actually attended school here as I recall. What is your take on our Tigers and how they match up with yours?
I was at LSU from 2003-2009, and regularly attended baseball and football games. I still watch LSU every weekend unless the Clemson game is on at the same time. I don't think Clemson will be able to stop LSU's running game, at all. We may start well but I don't see us finishing well because of the S&C issues of our defense, along with the youth of the DTs and run-stopping ability of the DEs. They just aren't to the level they should be to stop a punishing run game, even with 8 or 9 in the box total.
I do think Clemson could stop Mettenberger from beating us, because even though Landry/Beckham/Shepard/etc are capable players, they don't produce to the level they should. I think die-hard LSU fans would agree with that too. They drop too many balls and Mett, even though he's playing a lot better for the last 1/3 of the year, just isn't a world-beater.
Unfortunately it would be a first for our secondary to make a young QB look like a youngster instead of Peyton Manning, so who knows.
Speaking as an LSU fan, this doesn't really feel like a "Peach Bowl" type of season, but here we are. Even still, this is a fantastic matchup between two fairly evenly matched squads, even if it's not in a BCS Bowl. What are your thoughts on LSU versus Clemson on a stage like this?
I'd rather it be in a bigger game like you guys, because you did deserve the Citrus Bowl or a BCS game. However, when you look at some of the other matchups this one does offer both of us a quality opponent. At least we're not like FSU and stuck in a no-win scenario in the Orange.
If the teams weren't evenly matched enough, the coaches represent two...unique...figures in the college football landscape. Les Miles versus Dabo Swinney, what say you?
My dislike of Swinney is no secret, but so long as he wins I'll support him staying at Clemson...unless he happens to lose a 5th straight to SC.
I wouldn't support anyone at that point. I think he's a great recruiter and has done much behind the scenes to build the program up and get facilities and initiative to a certain level that we have been barking about for years. He has won 10 games twice, which is more than the last two coaches could ever do. What he said he would do and hasn't is build a punishing, physical football team. You can have that while being a pass-heavy offense, but we do not. Teams are scared of our skill talent, but not lining up against us. He also tends to put his foot in his mouth quite often and confronts us fans when we question him. I don't know of a coach who reads the internet and responds to the internet as often as Dabo does, while saying he never reads the internet.
When I got to LSU, it was Saban's program. When I could hang out with the football GAs, they often talked about the midget dictator and how difficult it was to work for him. Miles was not quite a 180 but was easier. I think Les does things that would get him fired if he did it with less than 5-star recruits. Things like the hail mary years ago against Auburn that was caught with :01 on the clock, or the converted 4th downs against Florida with Jacob Hester, or the like.
Also, give him time to prep and he usually puts a damn good product out there, and he still wins, even if it doesn't produce numbers to the level it should.
Still, both of them do something in a game or say something to the media that makes you go "WTF man". I'm sure we'll get one gem out of this game from the combination. Either one will screw up the clock management or will say something that makes one fan base want to strangle them.